President Trump is a religious leader

Trumpism, like other bad religions, denies science, identifies dark forces and denies reality.

This combination of Sept. 29, 2020, photos shows President Donald Trump, left, and former Vice President Joe Biden during the first presidential debate at Case Western University and Cleveland Clinic, in Cleveland. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

(RNS) — This isn’t about Democrat versus Republican. As a lifelong Democrat, I believe in the two party system. To quote the old cliché: Some of my best friends vote Republican.

Neither is this about whether you voted for President Donald Trump, or whether you voted for former Vice President Joe Biden.

There were many reasons why millions of people voted for Trump. We Biden voters need to understand some of those reasons. I invite you to hear me in dialogue with Rabbi Bradley Shavit Artson at American Jewish University on how we maintain American unity in the wake of this election.

The truth is: I am so over this election.

But, Trump is not.

Trumpism is no longer an electoral choice, nor a political ideology.

It is a religion — an overarching worldview, with a high priest and prophet at its head. A worldview that creates an “us versus them” mentality, a dualistic battle between the children of light and the children of darkness. A worldview that allows no disagreement. A worldview that persecutes heretics.

OPINION: Why Trump’s electoral crisis is really a moral crisis

In short, the “bad” kind of religion.

(Memo to my friends on the left: This defines many of us as well. Consider Monty Python’s famous line: “Nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition!” Call-out culture is a new Spanish Inquisition that uses not the tools of torture, but of intellectual reductionism and exclusion).

How has Trumpism become a bad religion?

President Donald Trump speaks from the South Lawn of the White House on the fourth day of the Republican National Convention, Aug. 27, 2020, in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

First, a bad religion denies science.

Trumpism denies climate science. It denies and ignores medical science. Promoting bogus miraculous cures. Almost demanding of its followers that they laugh at science through their refusal to wear masks in public.

And, in the days after the election, a total denial of the mathematics of the electoral system.

Second, bad religion believes in invisible forces in the world that are responsible for evil. 

The elitists, Hollywood and intellectuals. The chimera of election fraud. Long before the election, Trump said that the only way that he would accept the results of the 2020 election would be if he won.

There are dark forces — the darker-skinned forces, right on our borders, whose children must be consigned to the cages, who must not be admitted to this country. Darker-skinned people, especially Middle Eastern Muslims and those from “s—hole countries” in Africa.

QAnon — the most bizarre, irrational conspiracy theory that you could ever imagine. A Georgia congresswoman-elect, Marjorie Taylor Greene, espouses this theory. No less than 40% of Republicans agree that the QAnon theory is good for this country.

And, of course, that leftover obsession from the 1950s: “socialism.”

Third, bad religion denies reality.

Consider Chabad Judaism — the expectation, on the part of many of its adherents, that the Lubovicher Rebbe, Menachem Mendel Schneerson, will arise from his grave in Queens and become the true Messiah.

The Trumpists and their enablers will not accept defeat. They could never have accepted defeat. Long before the first vote was mailed in or cast, their religious leader told them not to accept the possibility of defeat.

President Donald Trump walks onstage to speak at a campaign rally on Feb. 21, 2020, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

Consider one of the most bizarre incidents in Jewish history — the story of the false Messiah, Sabbatai Zevi.

Sabbatai Zevi was a Turkish Jew in the 1600s. He convinced himself, and numerous Jewish and gentile followers, that he was the Messiah. Zevi advocated the abolishing of the mitzvot — God’s commandments — as the path to redemption.

It was a cult of nihilism.

Sabbateanism swept through Europe. Ultimately, Zevi was arrested by the sultan of Turkey and forced to accept Islam. Many of his followers said that in order to perfect the world, the Messiah had to enter the realm of the impure, to redeem the sparks of goodness.

“Sabbatai Zevi enthroned” Image from the Amsterdam/Jewish publication Tikkun, Amsterdam, 1666. Image courtesy of Creative Commons

Zevi was, by all accounts, mentally ill — delusional, grandiose, perhaps manic-depressive. The movement gradually disappeared. 

What does this fascinating and disturbing chapter of Jewish and European history have to do with the religion of Trumpism?

First: As Sabbateanism was nihilistic, so, too, is Trumpism. It seeks redemption through the abolishment of the American mitzvot — any sense of statesmanship or civic responsibility.

Second: Zevi did massive damage to Jews, Judaism and Europe because of his inner demons.

Trump has done massive damage to the United States of America, democracy and human beings.

Competent professionals have seen in Trump’s behavior signs of malignant narcissism, grandiosity and delusional behavior, among other factors. As with the Sabbatean movement, such behaviors have become both seductive and contagious.

What we are seeing in the United States right now is one man’s delusional behavior. His delusion has become metastatic in the American body politic. It has many enablers.

That metastatic delusion prevents our nation from moving on. It prevents a new president from having an appropriate transition. This is the first time in our nation’s history that this has happened. As such, it threatens this country’s security and well-being.

What happened after Zevi’s conversion to Islam? Sabbateanism reemerged as the Jacob Frank movement. Frank was another false Messiah, who claimed to be the reincarnation of Zevi.

It is within the realm of possibility that another prophet of the religion of Trumpism will arise.


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